A semi-deserted family estate in the middle of a region rich in smuggler lore, that also boasts of having it's own fair share of ghosts and secret passages, stories of missing treasure, and that is currently home to a family of poor relations -- these are just some of the ingredients that Carola Dunn has used to whip up the latest Daisy Dalrymple murder mystery. Does she deliver? I thought so. "Mistletoe and Murder" turned out to be a rather charming and entertaining read. And while the mystery plot did take a while to get under way, I did not feel shortchanged at all since the authour wisely spent half the book setting the stage -- filling us in on the past and present histories of the Norvilles (both the richer and the poor relations), and fleshing out the various characters that were about to become suspects of the for murder mystery that was about to take place.
It's December of 1923, and Daisy and Alec are about to spend their very first Christmas as a married couple together (barring Alec getting called up to investigate another criminal case, of course). But first, Daisy has to go away for a few days in order to write an article on a distant cousin's estate, Brockdene, for her magazine, 'Town and Country.' Unfortunately for Daisy, when her mother, the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple, gets wind of Daisy's plans, she comes up with a counter-plan of her own. The Dowager has decided that her entire family will spend Christmas together at Brockdene as guests of Lord Westmoor (the owner of Brockdene). Unbeknownst to the Dowager (who envisions some sort of elegant Christmas do peopled by the "right" sort of people) however, her plans are destined not to be realised: to begin with Westmoor and his family no longer spend Christmas at Brockdene and Brockdene is currently home to Westmoor's uncle's children -- scandal-ridden, poorer relations that have never really been acknowledged; also Daisy's sister has fallen ill, and so neither she nor her husband will be able to attend the Christmas festivities. All in all, not the kind of family gathering the Dowager had in mind.
In attendance however is an ex-missionary priest who has some connection to these scandalous Norville relations, and who seems to have been invited to Brockdene for a particular reason. What this reason is, Daisy isn't exactly sure (though she is dying to know), but she is sure that the reverend's presence is putting a strain on the Norville family, and that the tension and resentment is taking a toll on everyone. Esp since the reverend proves to be a rather stiff-rumped disapproving sort who soon puts a damper on the entire gathering. And then the reverend is found murdered in chapel. The obvious suspects are (of course) the poor Norville relations, but new information soon puts other Norville relations (Westmoor as well) in the running for prime suspect. Why was the reverend murdered and by whom? And as much as Daisy may like most of the poor relations, she cannot deny that one of them may have had the best reason for killing the reverend...
I really enjoyed reading this latest Daisy Dalrymple murder mystery. True, the mystery plot did take a while to unwind. But Carola Dunn told her story in such a charming, elegant and clever manner that I didn't feel impatient at all that the mystery proper took a while to get started. And then there was the poignant subplot involving the 'scandal'-ridden poorer Norville relations. I was truly involved with their plight and was really rooting for them to come out on top. There were, on the whole, very few plot twists, but there were suspects in the plenty. And the novel was rich in atmosphere and period charm, with a good storyline and a telling indictment on prejudice. For me, "Mistletoe and Murder" was a truly excellent read.